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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Lamentations 1

 

 

Verse 1

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!"Lamentations 1:1

An old Roman medal represents Judaea as a woman sitting under a palm tree in the deepest consciousness of desolation. The picture in this verse is strong by contrasts: solitary, and full of people; a widow, once a queen great among the nations; a princess receiving homage, now stooping in the act of paying tribute to a higher power. A picture so graphic is full of suggestion to those who are in great strength, who are, in fact, in possession of royal riches and imperial dominion. No nest is built so high that God"s lightning may not strike it. Men build huge towers in the hope of finding in them an asylum from judgment and death, not knowing that the higher they build they are, according to the senses, the more nearly approaching the centre of criticism and the tribunal of assize. Who has not seen the greatest inversions of human fortune? Who does not know how true it is that pride cometh before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall? To human vision, it certainly does appear impossible that certain estates can ever be turned to desolation; the owners are so full of health and high spirits, and they apparently have so much reason to congratulate themselves upon the exercise of their own sagacity and strength, that it would really appear as if no bolt could shatter the castle of their greatness. Yet that castle we have seen torn down, until there was not one stone left upon another. In every sense of the words, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall: riches take to themselves wings and flee away. We are only strong in proportion as we spend our strength for others, and only rich in proportion as we invest our gold in the cause of human beneficence. The ruins of history ought to be monitors and guides to those who take a large view of human life. Is not the whole of human history a succession of ruins? Where is Greece? where is Rome? where is proud Babylon? where the Seven Churches of Asia? where is classic culture? Yet although these have all been buried in ruin, there remains today the spirit of progress which testifies to the presence of God in the development of human life. We do not despair when we look at the ruins which strew antiquity; we rather reason that certain institutions have served their day, and what was good in them has been transferred into surviving activities. In the text, however, we have no question of ruin that comes by the mere lapse of time. Such ruin as is here depicted expresses a great moral catastrophe. The tears shed by the holy city are tears of remorse over sin. Judah did not go into captivity because of her excellency or faithfulness; she was driven into servitude because of her disobedience to her Lord. What was true of Judah will be true of every man amongst us. No man can sin, and prosper. The inviolable fortresses were never built by wicked hands. One sanctuary alone there is which never can be invaded or overthrown, or even temporarily injured, and that is the sanctuary of simple, earnest rectitude. "I have seen the wicked in great power;... yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not."


Verse 2

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"All her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies."Lamentations 1:2

Probably this was the keenest pang in all her agony. Men have a right to look for their friends when the clouds darken and the wind rises, but when it is found that even friends have abandoned us we may well begin to feel the misery of loneliness. We do not know our friends until we are in some extremity of suffering. Fair-weather friends are not to be implicitly trusted. You cannot know a man until you have had occasion to test him by some practical sacrifice; until you have opposed a man you do not know what his temper is; until you have disappointed a man you cannot tell the extent of his good nature; until you have seen a man in trial you know nothing whatever of his grace or his virtue. Many persons shine the more brightly because of the surrounding darkness; they have no genius for conversation, they cannot display themselves in public, they are but poorly feathered and coloured, so that they have nothing to attract and gratify the attention of curiosity: but how full of life they are when their friends are in trouble, how constant in watchfulness, how liberal in contribution, how patient under exasperation! These are the men to trust. As we should never see the stars but for the darkness, so we never should see real friendship but for our affliction and sorrow. In the case before us the friends not only abandoned Judah, they dealt treacherously with her; they not only assumed an attitude of indifference, they occupied a position of direct and bitter hostility—"They are become her enemies." How poor a trust is human love if it be not sanctified and inspired from on high; how frail is our best affection, and how empty our truest confidence, if it be a matter of calculation or investment or mere policy: only that friendship is true, and therefore eternal, which is founded upon merit, upon a recognition of moral attributes and qualities, and upon an assurance: of moral worthiness. These are the circumstances which do not change with clime or temperature or circumstances. There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. It is the very glory of Christ that when all others forsake us he appears to our soul in larger stature and in diviner loveliness than before. To him midnight is as midday; he does not walk with us only in the flowery garden or in the summer meadow, he is at our side when the hill is steepest, when the road is roughest, when the wind rises into storm and fury; we need not say to him, Abide with us, for the thought of leaving us never entered into his heart; if he were to leave us it would be in the summer-time, but in winter frost and snow his love is always round about us as a protecting robe. Have no friends but those who are friends of Christ. Let each human friendship express a still larger affection; then it will be without hesitation or reserve or self-regard, a living sacrifice, a beautiful, unselfish, Christianlike service.


Verse 4

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness."Lamentations 1:4

This is the description of a religious desolation. Once the roads leading to Zion were thronged with ardent pilgrims, urging onward in a spirit of worship and homage and rapturous love; now not a pilgrim is to be seen near the gates which open upon the holy place. Virgins and priests are alike left without official occupation; no broken heart seeks ease in Zion, no tormented spirit brings its sorrow to be healed. All men have turned in other directions for light and hope and safety. A pathetic picture indeed is this, that the feast is spread and no man comes to the banqueting-table; every gate is open in token of welcome and hospitality, yet no wandering soul asks for admittance; the priests once so noble in the service of Song of Solomon , the virgins once so beautiful as images of innocence, now stand with hands thrown down, with eyes full of tears, with hearts sighing in expressive silence their bitterness and disappointment. All this can God do even to his chosen place, and to altars on which he has written his name. Officialism is no guarantee of spiritual perpetuity. Pomp and ceremony, with all their mechanical and external decorations and attractions, are no pledge of the presence of the Spirit of the Living God. On many temples we may write Ichabod. The temples are as large as ever, and yet they are full of emptiness: every ceremony may be gone through with punctilious care, but the Lord himself has withdrawn, and service is turned into mockery. Here is a lesson for all persons who care for the sanctuary and for the extension of its redeeming influence. The sanctuary is nothing but for the Lord"s presence. Eloquent preaching is but eloquent noise if the Spirit of the Lord be not in it, giving it intellectual value, spiritual dignity, and practical usefulness. Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord; because men have forgotten this doctrine they have trusted to themselves and have seen their hopes perishing in complete and bitter disappointment. One wonders how all this has come to pass in Judah, and how this sorrow has befallen sacred and beautiful Zion. We need not wonder long, for the answer is given in these words—"For the Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions." That is the reason. When did we ever find other explanation of human suffering? When did God ever willingly chastise the children of men? When did the Lord say that merely to display his power he would shake his rod over the nations and torment them with great pain? Never. Whenever judgment has gone forth it has been in the cause of righteousness, it has been to avenge some offence against the laws of heaven, which are not arbitrary laws, established for the mere glory of the Potentate, but they are what may be called laws of health, laws of sanity, laws of progress, laws of pureness, laws of equity,—to sin against these laws is to go to the bottomless pit. Why disguise the result when all history has made it so plain? Why spoil by mocking euphemism what is so direct and patent even to the judgment of reason itself, to say nothing of that nobler imagination which bears the distinctive name of faith? Always transgression is the high-road to the grave. Men say this and acknowledge it, and. yet they repeat the offence as if no intimation of consequences had been given to them. What can remain for such people but increasing hardness of heart, until their sense of God"s existence has faded out of the mind?


Verse 8

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore is she removed"Lamentations 1:8

God does not inflict the punishment without giving the reason. He has no need to explain to men why punishment is awarded, yet he is condescending enough to say that punishment is the counterpart of iniquity. If we want to explain the punishment we have only to look at the sin; the punishment is from above, but the cause is from within: in proportion as a man looks at himself, studies his own nature and fully acquaints himself with the quality of his own motives, will he understand why it is that his life is troubled and torn and pained exceedingly. Any facts to the contrary are not sufficient in number or in quality to justify another conclusion. These facts have been recognised by the religious observers of all ages, and they have always been associated with another series of facts, to the effect that the triumph of the wicked was short, and the fatness of the unrighteous was as the fatness of oxen prepared for the slaughter. All nature testifies that only to goodness is reward given, and only to righteousness can heaven be promised.


Verse 12

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger?— Lamentations 1:12

This need not be put as a question, but may be read literally thus—"Not to you, ye passers by." Sometimes the expression has been taken as an interjection—"Oh, all ye that pass by." Zion does not speak to those who are merely passing on; to them she has nothing to say which they can understand. On the other hand, it may be imagined that Zion is complaining because of the indifference with which the world regards her. She is amazed that sorrow like hers can be in the world, and that men can pass by without paying any attention to it. We must beware of unduly magnifying sorrow, and yet we must be equally on our guard against lessening it, and taking out of it the suggestions of its greatness and dignity. Brooding over our sorrow, it may become disproportionately important: neglecting it, or trifling with it, we may lose all its most solemn and tender lessons. He is the wise man who measures his sorrow by right standards, and who asks God to reveal to him its scope and purpose, in order that through his sorrow he may form a truer estimate of his sins. God does not allot punishment to us according to our own estimate of sin, but according to the sin as it appears to him. If there is aught of clemency mingled with judgment it is because of the frailty of our frame, and our simple inability to encounter the judgment which is due even to what we may call our smallest transgressions. Some men have not scrupled to apply these words to Jesus Christ himself, as he was stretched upon the Cross, bearing such agony as neper before tormented the human soul, or rent the human body. According to these interpreters, Jesus Christ is represented as saying, Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by, that I should be thus crucified? Do ye not understand this agony? Is it not apparent to you that, if I suffer thus for your sin, your sin must have been of infinite hatefulness in the sight of God? Thus Jesus Christ is represented as drawing sympathy towards himself by reason of his sufferings, and is thus indirectly magnifying the grace and love of God in human redemption. Whether this be a legitimate interpretation or not, it is certain that no suffering was like the suffering of Christ; he poured out his soul unto death; he did not suffer for his own sins, but for the sins of others; he was wounded for our transgressions.


Verse 18-19

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity. I called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls."Lamentations 1:18-19

Now Zion is turning to a better mind. Here are signs of penitence. Zion acknowledges that her judgment is from the Lord, that the fire in her bones is kindled by the divine hand, and that her desolation and faintness are the judgments of the living God. When we see God in our punishments we begin to take a right view of them; when they are nothing to us but self-humiliations or signs of contempt, they embitter us and harden our hearts, but when we see God at work in the very desolation of our fortunes we are sure that he has a reason for thus scourging us, and that if we accept the penalty, and bow down before his majesty, we shall be lifted up by his mighty hand. Zion says that the Lord hath made her strength to fail, the Lord hath trodden under foot all her mighty men, the Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a winepress. But Zion does not accept these results with a hard heart; no: rather she says, "For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me." Whatever brings us to this softness of heart is a helper to the soul in all upward and divine directions. Zion confesses the righteousness of the Lord. In proportion as we can recognise the justice of our punishment, may we bear that punishment with some dignity. It has been pointed out that with this beginning of conversion the name of the Lord, or Jehovah, reappears. The people whom God has punished on account of their sins have, in the result, been enabled to recognise the justice of their punishment. Of this we have an example in the Book of Nehemiah ( Nehemiah 9:33-34): "Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly: neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers, kept thy law, nor hearkened unto thy commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against them." In the case of the Captivity, we see the extreme rigour of the law in the expression, "My virgins and my young men are gone into captivity... My priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls": the most honoured and the most beautiful have perished of hunger, as it were, in the open streets. How impartial and tremendous are the judgments of God! May not virgins be spared? May not his priests be exempted from the operation of the law of judgment? Will not an official robe protect a soul against the lightning of divine wrath? All history answers No; all experience testifies to the contrary, and thereby Revelation -establishes and infinitely confirms our confidence in the living God. Zion complains that her lovers have deceived her. "We have a similar confession in the Book of Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 30:14): "All thy lovers have forgotten thee; they seek thee not; for I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquity; because thy sins were increased." But Zion will from this time forth lift up her head, and the cloud of God"s wrath shall pass away. Hear how pathetic is the music of penitence: "Behold, O Lord; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled; mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled: abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death. They have heard that I sigh: there is none to comfort me: all mine enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that thou hast done it." This is indeed human confession, not only in the depths of its pathos and the reality of its grief, but in its hardly suppressed desire that personal enemies should be made to suffer by the sword of Heaven. Zion desires that the law of retaliation should take place in the case of her enemy: "Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint." How can a man even in his prayers be greater than himself? We reveal ourselves in our most pious aspirations. How selfishness taints our petitions! How our desire to see vengeance upon our enemies contracts and enfeebles our best prayers! Lord, teach us how to pray! Grant thy Spirit unto us, that even in our prayers we may love our enemies, and desire blessings for them which despitefully intreat us. This would be the perfection of character; in this holy, Christlike desire we should become even as the Son of God himself. This attainment is beyond us for the time being; all we can do is to move in the direction of its realisation; we may but move imperceptibly, yet if there is any movement which even God can detect, it will be accounted to us for righteousness. In all respects strive to enter in at the strait gate! Not only is the gate which opens upon conversion strait and the road narrow, but the gate is strait and the road is narrow which lead unto the completion and perfection of human character,

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Lamentations 1:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/lamentations-1.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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